Nearly one-third of American adults have high cholesterol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And while less than half of these people are getting treatment, many are taking medications known as statins.
Statins are a class of drugs used to lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, also known as “bad” cholesterol. They block a naturally occurring substance in the body that is used to make cholesterol. They also work to eliminate cholesterol that has developed into hardened plaque on the walls of your arteries. It’s this hardened plaque that can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
Several studies have affirmed that statins are effective at reducing cholesterol and preventing cardiovascular disease. One found that statins reduced mortality and cardiovascular events in people without prior evidence of cardiovascular disease. Another large review of research, with more than 80,000 study participants, found similar results, with statins reducing the risk of overall death and cardiovascular-related death.
These reviews don’t mean statins are risk free or come without side effects. Everyone has the potential to react differently to drugs.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the most common side effects of statins include muscle and joint pains, nausea, and headaches. Other frequent side effects include sore throats, nosebleeds, and a runny or stuffed-up nose.
Less common side effects may include liver damage, poor blood glucose management, or the development of type 2 diabetes, muscle pain, and mental problems including confusion and memory loss.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that statins are not recommended for pregnant women or people with existing liver disease.
The FDA currently approves six different statins for sale and use in the United States. These include:
- atorvastatin (Lipitor)
- fluvastatin (Lescol)
- lovastatin (Mevacor, Altoprev)
- pravastatin (Pravachol)
- rosuvastatin (Crestor)
- simvastatin (Zocor)
Your doctor will help you decide which type is right for you. This decision will depend on a variety of factors, including any possibility of multi-drug interactions if you are on other medications. Also, some are likely to be more budget-friendly than others.
Medication is one way of managing your cholesterol levels. But your doctor will likely make additional recommendations. These might include:
- quitting smoking
- regular exercise
- maintaining a healthy weight
- a diet low in saturated and trans fats
- a diet rich in vegetables, whole grains, and fish
Usually, high cholesterol is both preventable and manageable. Left alone, it could lead to heart disease and deadly complications. Identifying it and managing it is the key to lasting heart health. While statins are frequently prescribed to help lower cholesterol, they are not the only solution.